Badgechain newsletter #15 – Cryptocurrency: unchecked, unregulated, un-understood

November 9th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

$7000. Bitcoin. Unprecedented. Unparalleled. Unimaginable. Fascinatingly, or perhaps terrifyingly, software professionals are not merely shaking their head at this valuation but at the construct of cryptocurrency itself.

I turned to Twitter to get a read on this recent development and it did not disappoint. @helenhousandi tweeted, “Kinda blows my mind that people who work on software and know it’s basically all duct taped together are willing to have software currency.”

Hooo boy, now that’s a conversation starter, right?

@BillStewart5 responded, “Most of the new software currencies are intended for sale to people who don’t understand that.” So, professional software folks believe that stooges are the primary cryptocurrency audience? Not a ringing endorsement. Still, @Rabbyte pushes back on this overwhelmingly pessimistic view with two tweets that reframe what cryptocurrency might be, “I don’t consider it currency anymore than I consider a webpage to be paper. 💁💸” She follows that up with, “it’s a metaphor that builds a sandbox for solving security issues to get to the next thing.” This seems like both logical and plausible reasoning. Maybe we’re just too locked into the idea of currency as something we know and understand. And yet…

There are legitimate big picture concerns: our current financial system relies on a strong but not always obvious social contract. @floatingatoll warns, “Not one I know pays taxes on the income earned, and they laugh at my concern that tax-dodging isn’t really a solid long-term plan.” And listen to @rnewman’s cryptocurrency issue, “I recently turned down a job in part because the implications of cryptocurrency comp (!) weren’t well thought through. #whatafuture”

This sort of conversation—where professionals who build software openly comment on the dependability of a world where software is currency—isn’t really happening anywhere in long form journalism, at least not with anywhere near the bite that it’s happening on Twitter. And it’s not just tech-savvy folks, but folks interested in the structure of our society. We have a long way to go if this is to be our future.

On the plus side, people are trying to make cryptocurrencies work. On the minus side, those cryptocurrencies appear to be drunkenly wandering back and forth across the line of sheer madness and dependable, social usefulness. So, while their valuations may be going through the roof, chances are folks are gonna feel perfectly fine when the sheer madness valuation bubble finally bursts. @evansolomon’s destabilizing warning, “The software is probably the least insane part of crypto” dovetails beautifully with @ipstenu’s, “Unchecked, unregulated, un-understood. That’s our universe!”

Maybe the software builders know a thing or two.

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Here are the Twitter links that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of decentralized technologies, blockchain, and its impacts on finance and society.










Innovations in Open Badges & Blockchain

October 26th, 2017 | Kerri Lemoie

BadgeChain began as an investigation into blockchain in the context of Open Badges, a new digital credential designed to acknowledge learning and achievements that happen anytime, anywhere, and anyhow. Open Badges embed metadata describing an accomplishment into an image (or badge), this construct results in easily consumable data and ultimately a truly portable credential. Badges can be microcredentials but also any type of credential including degrees and certifications.

Open Badges are hosted on web servers, and the verification method is reliant on the issuers storing the data for as long as the earners need it. But web servers can go down and the data stored could be modified without any historical reference. Two inherent qualities of blockchain technologies address this: permanence (at least for as long as there are nodes in the chain) and immutability (once a transaction is on the chain, it can’t be changed).

This week we caught up with two initiatives that embrace the ethos of Open Badges and seek to improve upon data verifiability using blockchain technologies: Blockcerts and OpenBlockchain.

Blockcerts is “an open standard for building apps that issue and verify blockchain-based official records” including academic credentials and professional licenses with data aligning to the Open Badges specification. Blockcert’s open source libraries, tools, and mobile apps were initially developed by MIT’s Media Lab and Learning Machine and they are encouraging community involvement through their community forum and GitHub repo.

A recent example of Blockcerts in action is MIT’s Digital Diploma which makes it possible for students to share their verifiable and tamper-proof diploma digitally. Some other examples coming out of Learning Machine include the Federation of State Medical Boards which is using Blockcerts to verify medical qualifications, and the Republic of Malta aimed at workforce training credentials.

OpenBlockchain is an initiative of the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) at The Open University in the UK. KMI’s experiments are primarily aimed at higher education institutions in the UK, but they are also working on projects concerning workforce training, peer-to-peer interactions, and the funding of education through blockchain. They are taking a unique approach to Open Badges by experimenting with ways to store and issue them using ethereum. Ethereum, originally built based on the Bitcoin blockchain, is also decentralized, meaning that distribution is amongst many nodes, but instead of just storing transactions, the nodes also host and run small apps (called DApps) which rely on logic and data stored in smart contracts.

One of OpenBlockchain’s first experiments converted Open Badges earned on the OpenLearn platform into smart contracts that display the information about the credential on blockchain. The evidence and feedback provided in each achievement are also stored on blockchain. They envision a UK-wide blockchain where all students’ credentials are stored so as to facilitate credit transfer and allow potential employers to view student work. Currently, the KMI team is working on a Moodle plugin that will issue Moodle Badges to smart contracts. A video demonstrating this as well as other informational videos about their work may be found here: